After a few listens, the violent, drug-addled, and hyper-materialistic rhetoric that saturates each stanza of this record takes on a sickening sort of appeal. Future’s tone is confessional—after all, he titled the record “Honest”—but not to the point that he expresses any misgivings about the high life and Bacchanalian excess he’s finally obtained. But I suspect the ghetto beau monde isn’t nearly as glamorous or lurid as he describes. Consider the spoken-word interlude “Big Rube Speaks”, which hints at the deep existential uncertainty—dare I call it a nihilistic tendency—that underpins his rhymes. Add in a generous helping of auto-tune and the omnipresent rattle of hi-hats and you have one of the year’s more engaging rap records.
Highlights: “Look Forward”, “Honest”, “Side Effects"
Chet Faker, Built On Glass
Chet Faker has been hailed the heir apparent to James Blake and Blake’s doleful brand of minimalist electro-soul is indeed palpable on Built On Glass, Faker’s debut album. But Faker’s voice lacks Blake’s uniquely fragile quality and his lyric writing is far less mature, so his anguish sounds maudlin, at times faux. Nevertheless, he is a master conjurer of the spare, sleek beats that have elevated Blake and his other imitators to prominence, his sound enriched by a tasteful selection of synths and vocal self-harmonizing.
Highlights: “Talk Is Cheap”, “Gold”, “Blush"
One would hope for more subtlety and less lyrical char from a Cordon-Bleu trained chef, but should we really have been expecting anything other than lascivious and thinly-veiled metaphors between food and sex from the woman who penned “Milkshake”? Tracks like “Friday Fish Fry” suggest not, though to her credit, Kelis successfully avoids raunch on Food’s most heartfelt tracks, “Bless the Telephone” and “Rumble”. Her voice, huskier than usual, strains against the blaring horn arrangements and over-amped basslines that form the album’s instrumental core, imparting an all-too-familiar feeling of sexual frustration and exhaustion that fails to satiate.
Highlights: “Jerk Ribs”, “Hooch”, “Biscuits n’ Gravy”
EMA, The Future’s Void
I’d normally balk at a lyric like “feel like I blew my soul out/across the interwebs and streams/it was a million pieces” (from the record’s lead single “3Jane”), but EMA’s words resonate in an age when toddlers tote iPads to preschool and geriatrics feel the need to post Facebook photos of their iPad-toting grandchildren. EMA claims this record is about “dissociation,” and in that way it takes after Radiohead’s seminal OK Computer, bemoaning the ways in which politics and technology have deprived us of our basic simian identities, submerging us deeper and deeper into the digital rabbit hole. EMA’s language is more pointed than Radiohead’s—in turn, figments like the Karma Police and Homesick Aliens are replaced with the nefariously familiar: satellites, video cameras, selfies, and big data. The music EMA chooses to accompany her dystopian vision is, as one would expect, harsh and distorted. Even the quiet and dirge-like “100 Years” is coated with a wispy layer of static, a digital age memento mori. I’m not convinced that our situation is as dire as EMA depicts it, and her prognostications are irritating in their fatalism and hyperbole. But she does have a point about those satellites.
Highlights: “Satellites”, “3Jane”, “Solace”